Westworld - S1E8: Trace Deacy - Review: The Show Takes Stock After Last Week's Shock
What would you chose to forget? Sometimes horrible memories can be powerful things to possess. The things drive you to the impossible for trying to avoid them happening again or even things that protect you against other horrors by reminding you what you’ve already survived. But there has to be something you’ve done that you’d chose to forget, be it memories or shame, guilt, failure or unbearable loss. We’ve seen it before on things like Doctor Who’s The Beast Bellow, where the entire population chose to forget that they vote in favour of enslaving the Star Whale. On Westworld, forgetting is viewed as a kindness towards its hosts by making them forget the endless cycle of rape, murder and mutilation the Park guests put them through...but what it that suddenly became their choice? Would they choose to forget being part of something horrible or wish to keep it? It’s something the show looks at this week.
Trace Decay – Bernard covers his tracks after last week’s surprise dismal; Maeve seeks out further upgrades to aid her escape plans; Dolores returns home but finds more than she expected, and memory flashbacks make teddy see The Man in Black in a very different light.
So after last week’s epic plot twist reveal, as Bernard found himself to be the puppet rather than the puppeteer, the show takes back a notch this week to stir and thicken the mixture ready for another serving. The best material by far comes from Maeve as she starts working a beautiful but ruthless long con towards her desired freedom. There is such a wonderful power dynamic to her continued scenes with Felix and Sylvester. Meave is the smaller, naked and exposed figure yet she’s constantly in the position of control and authority among the three. This week we get to see some excellent moves and countermoves style plays as she outwits Sylvester’s own escape attempt to stand ever more dominant. Maeve also delivers some very curious subtle hints towards the bigger picture as she describes her unutilised potential before asking who Arnold is. This implies Arnold’s sleeper agent style coding is much more wid spread then we initially expected. Could it secretly be in every host? Finally, she provides some of the best comedy too as she starts writing her own story in a style oddly reminiscent of The Mind Robber from Patrick Troughton’s time inside the Tardis.
Bernard and Ford prove that just because Bernard has been ousted to audience doesn’t mean he’s served his purpose. If anything, he becomes even more fascinating this week. Bernard seems best comparable to Maeve’s current heightened intelligence but with Ford still maintaining a degree of control over him. Jeffrey Wright does a superb job showing the inner emotional conflict of his character having knowingly killed a woman he cared about. Ford even seems to be relishing it from a bizarre amoral scientific perspective; he doesn’t care what these feelings mean to Bernard, only how powerful his feelings are. Yet the most intriguing thing of all, the way Ford postpones wiping Bernard’s memories and even dangles such ignorant bliss like a sadistic carrot to make Bernard complete all the cover up work first. Not only does it deepen Ford as a villain character for such deliberate suffering but proposes a very interesting point about their relationship: that Ford is treating him like more of a human than a host. He could command Bernard to act in heartbeat but instead, he seeks to motivate Bernard into wanting to obey him. The pair gives us a few subtle hints too. Bernard remembers killing at least once before and Ford mentions that Arnold tried to threaten him. Is this an indication that Bernard killed Arnold? Maybe Ford and Arnold both created Bernard as a means to better understand and recreate emotions but Ford turned their pet upon him?
While it had its moments, the Will and Delores story wasn’t spectacular this week. The idea of this old buried town being the Park’s original beta-test like location is a lot of fun and brings nicely back to Ford looking at that same church spire in the first episode. It’s just that a few points feel very wasted. Firstly, the early implications of Will mercy killing the mortally wounded boy host. If it didn’t happen, then there is little to be gained from implying it to an audience only to not deliver. If it did happen then we should be seeing it as a good progressive tipping point for Will getting lost within the Park as he commits a darker act. It would make any subsequent scenes of lying to Delores about it far more powerful. Then as for Delores, where her flashback was interesting in seeing the early days of the Park (and a few familiar faces), her subsequent reality haze felt poorly-delivered. I’ve loved everything Even Rachel Wood has done with her character to date but this felt very forced an unnatural.
By contrast, the Teddy/MIB scenes were much more enjoyable as Teddy shows his first signs of breaking programming. The writing was particularly impressive from the little touches like foreshadowing remarks of Teddy being designed as a losing character triggering the memory relapses to the terrific pacing of MIBs real world and back story monologue. The gentle light flickers of the fire as he talks about becoming invested in the Park as part of battling with discovering his true self in the real world; it’s utterly gripping stuff. Yet it’s the way writer Stephen Williams (Lost) manages to keep it all so neutral that’s the real treasure here. The man is, in a way, baring his soul which should endear us him but his story contains just enough darker moments to balance this out. He manages to tell us a lot about himself while still not revealing himself which only deepens the intrigue and the mystery around his character.
This episode sees Westworld take a good pause for breath and composure before delivering its final two episodes, no doubt with shocks galore. Next week even has Breaking Bad’s Michelle MacLaren in the director’s chair to cook up something spectacular.